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Teacher Initiative – Voter Forums

This year, the U.S. Government classes at Central Catholic High School hosted a series of Voter Forums to discuss five ballot measures (Measures 103, 105, 106, 26-199 and 26-201) that were on the 2018 ballot.

For our Voter Forums, students engaged in the hard work of democracy by researching and presenting the arguments put forth on both sides of the ballot measures. They heard evidence and arguments for both sides, then discussed the measures, first in small groups and then as a whole class. We used a discussion technique – modeled on the Structured Academic Controversy (SAC) taught at Classroom Law Project’s Summer Institutes — that focuses on becoming well-informed (as opposed to a debate format, which is about winning). This format is designed to help us build a culture of civil discourse, active listening, and civic participation; we are also working to help our students become critical consumers of information.

As part of the process we discussed what it means to be a voter and to make decisions with imperfect information. We weighed contradictory arguments and sources of information. We identified the questions we still had after reviewing the Oregon Voters Pamphlet, newspaper articles and editorials, campaign websites, and other materials. And we invited and engaged other classes, parents, teachers, and visitors in our conversations to broaden our viewpoints. All attendees were expected to participate in the discussion – after all, democracy is NOT a spectator sport!

After researching and discussing the ballot measures, students assessed which arguments they found most persuasive. We then published our Voter Forum Report that lists the arguments the seniors found to be most persuasive on both sides of the ballot measures.*

This year we also used video from our Voter Forums as the basis for a community conversation on Measure 105. We invited alumni, parents, and community members to participate in our first-ever Stark Talks, where we had attendees follow the same discussion model used by our students.

The feedback from both the Voter Forum Report and Stark Talks has been overwhelmingly positive – we found that our community wants to engage in serious, civil discourse on complicated issues.

* Please note that we did not endorse any measures or candidates. We are not fact checkers and did not attempt to verify the accuracy of any statements made in the Oregon Voters Pamphlet or other sources.